Cult Column

It is easy to think only of Dreamworks or Disney productions when we consider animated films, perhaps initially forgetting about more arthouse examples like the works of Hayao Miyazaki, or Spike Jonze’s short Mourir Aupres de Toi. It seems we are almost reluctant to categorise these films as animations because they seem more akin to art of a higher brow than the somewhat inferior title ‘cartoon’ would allow. Indeed, it always seems to come as a surprise when we are faced with a more serious animation that we appreciate on a deeper level than simply admiring the effects.

That being said, many animations deserve praise on a purely visual level; with the technological developments of our computer-dominated age, we are seeing an increasing intricacy in animated films. Compare the first Toy Story to the third and the progressions in technology are startlingly evident, causing a childish delight in not just the nostalgia of the viewing but also in the realistic rendering of character’s hair and clothes.

Though films have developed technologically speaking, have the culturally prevalent works of Dreamworks or Disney lost something of their originality? The child in me is always especially disappointed when I see a children’s film or TV show that is pleasing to the eye but ultimately vapid. As a medium that wholly shapes one’s mindset as a child, it seems such a waste to see generic cartoons churned out that offer little to stimulate even a child’s mind. Perhaps this is also due to selective memory – choosing to remember every film I watched in my childhood as a classic – but when you see the possibilities as in the likes of Finding Nemo, Toy Story and The Incredibles it seems such a shame to populate cinemas with sub-standard cartoons that have come to rely more on visual effects than the creation of genuinely good films that parents will actually want to see with their children.

Recent animation also shows its flaws in the apparent fetishisation of celebrities, for example Shark Tale and even the recent Home no longer simply adapt recognizable voices but allow the characters to simply become the actors. The first film to make the use of famous voices was really the 1937 Disney film Pinocchio, which used the singer Cliff Edwards to voice Jiminy Cricket. The increased use of modeling at the time also meant that animators began to use the mannerisms and body language of the actors to inform the rendering of the characters, though the link between them was at this point more on a subliminal level. Nowadays however it seems more relied upon to bring in viewers, and this dependence seems to instill children with a love for celebrity culture at a young age. This importance placed in pop culture also can be seen in the disturbingly club-like soundtracks of some recently released animations. Though this is of course something of a generalisation, it is becoming more common to see a film interspersed with a heaver dance track, resembling a teenager’s iPod more than a children’s film.

This is not to say in the slightest that there is a lack of value in the animation industry; turn your attention down any other avenue of animation and you find works of high quality. It’s merely a cynical question, raised when faced with any poorly-made film, of whether larger animation businesses have come to rely upon the actors they bring in for their commercial success,  so much so that they no longer feel the need to put any serious thought into some of their films. Though, at the end of the day, business is business.

Photograph: wsh1266 (CC-BY-2.0)

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